A question from a reader:
I meant “What are the differences…”. Please give objective answers.
The Catholic Mass is the true Eucharist where Christ’s body and blood literally become present as they did at the Last Supper. The Episcopalian form is just one of many symbolic Protestant communion services where a bit of bread and wine are shared.
As far as the words and liturgy are concerned, there is very little difference between the RC mass and an ECUSA Communion service. Both services have the same elements, including a Gathering of People, Confession and Absolution, listening to scripture read, a sermon or homily, a Creed, Intercessionary prayers, The Peace, the Prayer of Consecration, The Breaking of Bread, the distribution of the bread and wine, a closing prayer of thanksgiving and a dismissal.
The main differences are in belief surrounding the mass or the communion service. Roman Catholics believe in transubstantiation – the bread and wine actually turning into the body and blood of Christ. The catholic wing of the Anglican Church also has this belief, but the majority of Anglicans, including Episcopalians, do not – instead believing in the bread and wine being symbolic of Christ’s body and blood. Therefore, whereas in RC churches the blood and wine are reserved in a small cupboard called an aumbry (if in a wall) or a tabernacle (if in the altar itself) and is revered, in most Anglican Churches this is regarded almost as idolatry and the bread and wine are not revered or reserved, but consumed reverently at the end of each communion service.
Roman Catholics also regard the mass as the re-sacrifice of Jesus each time the mass is said. They justify this approach by the breaking of Christ’s body (the bread) and the pouring out of Christ’s blood (the wine), and, as they believe that the bread and wine are his body and blood, the resacrifice takes place each time it the bread is broken. However, Anglicans point to the scriptures which state that Christ’s sacrifice was a once-and-for-all event and regard the mass as a re-sacrifice as against scripture and rather repugnant. Instead, the emphasis is placed on Jesus’ words “do this in remembrance of me” and therefore they regard the communion service as a thanksgiving for his sacrifice and a memorial of his death and passion. Moreover, whereas in the Episcopal Church the people receive both the bread and wine as a memorial, in the RC church the people usually receive the bread alone, the wine reserved for the priest alone as an intercessor on behalf of the people.
Edit to darkside: The term you’re looking for is “consubstantiation.” I avoid using that term when speaking with anybody who is, or might be, unfamiliar with the difference between con- and transubstantiation, as that is a deeply theological discussion. And I never said “purely symbolic.” But thank you for making clear that there is a difference.
In the modern liturgies, they’re very similar. Catholic mass, however, has many prescribed actions that go with it. Episcopalian communion/mass/eucharist doesn’t and can be performed in many different ways as the episcopal church contains everything from “almost catholic” to “almost fundamentalist”. The key difference in the words is that the traditional catholic eucharistic prayer is a lot longer and contains a lot of references to saints, which the episcopalian one doesn’t. But I gather that one is not much used these days.
If you go back past the 20th century revisions, though, the traditional Latin mass is a LOT different from the Book of Common Prayer communion service and the differences are too numerous to list here.
Edit – correction to King James. Anglicans/episcopalians do NOT believe that the bread and wine are purely symbolic (though some may do). The official belief is that christ is somehow present in them, though they don’t believe in full transubstantiation as catholics do.
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